December 17th – The Festival of the End of the Line

What are urban myths, if not the folk tales of yesteryear dressed up in modern garb? Whilst some of these myths are obviously new tales, inextricably linked to the modern world and all its trappings, others have clearer links to the past, where their tropes and broad structures herald from, with the details updated. In Buentoille, the monarchic figures who featured in many folk tales have been replaced with more appropriate characters, and classic stories of candle spirits now tend to inhabit other, electrical light sources. In Litancha, death once rode a horse, but now rides a motorbike. Back in the City, death has always been represented as a boatman, and still is for the most part. Yet in the past hundred or so years other methods of transportation have apparently become available.

Today and tonight Caundle Street Station will be closed for routine repairs, in accordance with the safety code of the Conglomerated Buentoilliçan Rail Service. Every station has at least one day a year, scheduled in far in advance, for assessment and repair of the various ailments that can beset train stations, their rails and signalling systems. Sometimes this work will go on all throughout the night, but usually there will be barely anything that needs fixing, given that important repairs go on throughout the year anyway. Today is more of a yearly checkup, a doctor’s visit to make sure nothing is overlooked. Because everyone knows far in advance that it will be closed, even if all the repairs are completed by 10am, no stops will be scheduled at the station anyway, so the gates will remain shuttered.

Caundle Street Station is an unusual station, in that it is at the end of that particular underground line, yet instead of the tracks ending neatly where the platform ends, the line goes on for about a quarter of a mile; a dark tunnel, fully kitted out with rails, that abruptly ends in a solid stone wall. Presumably there were plans for another station further down the line that did not or is yet to come to fruition, although some people have suggested that it is extra space for any runaway trains to slow down in, given that the rails edge on an upwards gradient. Whatever the truth of its existence, the fact is that if you go left out of the station you would meet only a wall.

In the day there will probably be a few labourers passing in and out of the shuttered gates that lead down to the platform, but they are almost always done by night so there is an empty station, where no trains will even pass through, the normally well-lit staircase a dark portal to this well-kept space. Many pieces have appeared in the papers over the years, most notably in the letters to the editor of Rail Weekly, reporting hearing a train going past the empty station below, in the darkness, at midnight. If you talk to anyone living in the houses directly above, they say they feel it pass by tonight, a familiar faint rumble, but out of time from the normal services to which they have become accustomed; that’s why they noticed.

Some people say it passes at midnight, others that it arrives in the early hours of the morning, at two or three, and stays for some time before it leaves, its engines ticking away ominously, reverberating up the stairs to those who listen in the streets above. According to the myths that circulate around the area, in 1978 a group of six people, all in their early twenties, decided they’d try to see for themselves. The gates above were locked, but the next station down, Lyster Tribute Station, was not. They hopped down onto the trackway in the evening and walked, heading for the empty, repaired station. Only five returned.

Whilst everyone claims to have ‘a friend’ who knew one of these ill-fated adventurers, nobody actually agrees on their names, and there is seemingly no evidence of a death on the tracks, or a disappearance. This doesn’t phase those who leave flowers by the entrance of the station today, or those who wait outside with recording equipment, trying to gather evidence of their own. There may even be people who venture down as the six did, yet this is strictly illegal and very dangerous as the third rail is still powered, so is not recommended, and nobody has publicly admitted to it.

Neither does lack of any evidence stop the typical claim, an integral part of the story, that the unspecified ‘papers’ reported the incident differently from how the young people told it: apparently, the papers said one of the adventurers didn’t manage to get off the tracks in time as the train approached, a train that had suffered catastrophic break failure. What the five remaining young people said privately was, apparently something quite different.

They all got safe and sound onto the empty platform, long before midnight, and set up their camping chairs and took out their flasks of whiskey-laced coffee, their hot water bottles and blankets. And then, at the appointed hour, the sound of a train coming around the corner was heard, and the lights all suddenly turned on, and started getting brighter and brighter, so nobody could see a thing for quite a few seconds. When their vision finally adjusted to the brightness there was a carriage in the station, unmarked and a ticket inspector waiting at the open doors. Unbidden, the sixth adventurer stepped forwards and produced a ticket, a ticket which until that moment they didn’t know that they had, and they stepped on board, and the doors closed, and the train pulled out of the station. The others had been too stunned to speak or even breathe, but now that the lights once more faded, they listened out for a crash that never came from the carriage that was headed towards the end of the line.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Left by the Side Day
  • The Festival of Cold Children
  • The Canticle of Dreams Festival

December 18th – Saint Brussel’s Day

The fact of the matter is that nobody can agree on why Buentoillitants named the little cabbages on a stalk ‘Brussel’s sprouts.’ There are plenty of theories, none of which seem to align perfectly, but clearly with all of them there has been some connection made with Saint Brussel and the vegetable. Indeed, Brussel’s sprouts seem to be a generally controversial plant, one which inspires the most heated disagreements on this, Saint Brussel’s Day.

The most popular explanation for the name and also the positioning of today’s festival in the calendar is that the sprouts were brought to Buentoille by Saint Brussel in the early 13th century, when they were popular as a late autumn crop that would store into the winter better than other, larger leafy greens. Adherents to this theory point to the images in the Saint’s tomb, which appear to show a saintly figure holding aloft a stalk of Brussel’s Sprouts, which then are placed into the ground, as if being planted.

Yet there are some scholars who say that this ‘stalk’ is actually a club, similar in design to those used by a number of ancient tribes that were later subsumed by the Chenorrian Empire. The images are perhaps symbolic of the Saint’s flight from these lands, and their renouncement of violence when they got safely to the City. The official Chastise Church version of the story straddles these two theories, claiming that the Saint performed a transmutation of his weapon into vegetable matter, symbolic of his devotion to peace and prosperity.

Today, as with all saintly festivals, the Church will hold a special service in honour of the Saint and his teachings of laying down arms and performing useful labour. At the end of the service the priest and a small entourage of faithful farmers will take the best stalk of sprouts from their harvest, which will have been cut from the fields very recently, perhaps even this morning, and place it upright in a pot at the tomb’s entrance, behind the iron gates that lead into one of Buentoille’s most ancient tombs, a locked offshoot of the catacombs.

Even for those who are not followers of the Chastise Church, today is a day to cook and eat Brussel’s sprouts. Generally they will be roasted along with other vegetables of the season, or perhaps sliced thinly and used as a salad or stir-fry. Another popular dish is Brussel’s Pie, where the peeled and quartered vegetables are mixed with a cheese sauce and potatoes. This dish can go without a lid bit traditionally it will be lidded, with the image of a sprout stalk made from extra pastry laid on top. Much like with Pea Day, experimentation is encouraged, and meals tend to be shared to larger-than-average gatherings; it seems that Buentoille has a fondness for round green vegetables.

A popular story told about the Saint today, which again seems somewhat at odds with the other versions of his association with the sprouts, is that he invented them as a way of making a group of peasants happy. In this story, the Saint is Buentoillitant, a man who makes pilgrimage to the Anscestor mountains every year, and every year on his way out of the City he would pass by a pub, where he would eat and would hear the same argument about cabbages. The nub of the argument was that the peasants could not agree who would get the sweet inner core of the cabbage they’d cooked, and who’d get the bitter outer leaves. One day, in a fit of annoyance, the Saint walked into the pub’s centre, planted his staff and out from it sprouted many little cabbages, so that everyone would be able to eat the sweet centres.

There are at least three pubs which claim to be the very pub from this story: the Saint and Staff, the Tiny Cabbage and Saint Brussel’s Halt. Each will put on great feasts of Brussel’s sprouts today, trying to outdo each other with their grandiose recipes, and one of them (The Tiny Cabbage) even has its own alcoholic concoction made using the veg, which is said to be quite foul. Ironically enough, Saint Brussel’s attempt to make peace amongst the people of Buentoille has actually led to further argument; after this story is told there is traditionally an argument about whether or not sprouts are actually sweet or not. It’s clear which side of the argument most young Buentoillitants fall on, seeing that today’s festival is officially unrecognised by the Union of Children.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Weighing the Good
  • Temmule’s Day
  • The Rested Lover Festival

December 19th – The Festival of Finding the Second Aquarium

If you want to be a member of the Benetek University Society of Aquatic Life (BUSAL), one of Buentoille’s most exclusive and mysterious student societies, then you have to find the Second Aquarium today. The Second Aquarium is a legendary place, often whispered about in university corridors with a strange reverence, yet not a great deal is known of it. The rumours tend to get a little out of hand; it’s highly unlikely that, for example, the Aquarium has living whales within it, given that it is deep underground within the labyrinthine ways of the Unfathomed Archive. Neither is it likely that there is anything like the vast glass tanks of water that make up the City Aquarium on the surface, considering it would be neigh-on impossible to get the sheets of glass down the twisting tunnels and corridors that interlink the archival rooms. Whatever it looks like, it’s very difficult to find.

Part of the reason for this difficulty is the extreme secrecy with which the route and hidden entrance is treated by BUSAL, an organisation which, although it is registered with the Benetek University Student Union, officially has a membership of one, a now forty eight year old man called Tennovious Joy who is paid a small retainer each year and who knows precisely nothing about the actual members who communicate to him only through dead drops. Rumour is the only way by which today’s festival has become known, that and the fish-shapes daubed across the campus yesterday which signified today would be the day to go looking for the Second Aquarium; the festival day varies each year.

When a festival day varies it is usually for a particular reason; perhaps to align with the moon phase, the weather, or some other natural phenomenon. Given that the first two options don’t seem to make sense given the conditions of previous years, the most likely possibility is that it marks the day of some animal migration or unusual behaviour that cannot be observed on other days. This, at least, was the theory of Enchan Tress, the amateur detective who became famous for the short series of pamphlets that she self-published, which catalogued the details of her sleuthing, and which she never finished. Some say that she was paid off or intimidated, others that the cancer she suffered from became too much to handle, others that the trail simply ran cold.

The first thing that Tress did, in her self-directed quest to expose the secrets of BUSAL, was to find out who was daubing the fishes on the walls. She hung around the University grounds at night, luckily managing to find the man on her first stakeout. Yet she lost him in the moments after, when he seemed to be going directly away from the archives. The next year, however, she found him early, now that she recognised him; he was fishing. Every night for two weeks straight he would be at a specific point on the river bank, fishing. He caught a few things but always quickly threw them back in, until finally he pulled out a small glowing fish, which he transferred to a jar of water, put in his rucksack and set off for the University to daub fishes on the walls.

In the pamphlets, little hand-printed things on thick card with sewn binding that she left all over the University, Tress wrote about the possible theories she had, based upon this strange behaviour, and some other details she noticed when (unsuccessfully) trying to navigate the depths of the Unfathomed Archive, or reading up about it in the Benetek libraries. ‘Few people seem to know much about it, but there must be a substantial pumping system somewhere in the Archive, to keep it as dry as it is. I have seen the pipes lining some of the walls down there. My research indicates that this could well be maintained, and even built and powered, by the Pohlatiné, who obviously have an interest in keeping the items stored there securely. I may never find the Second Aquarium, I have tried many times but each time the maze of corridors seems almost to shift and before I know it I am back at the beginning, or lost in some dark conduit deep below.

‘Yet despite my own failure, perhaps I can inspire others to try, and perhaps I can shed some light on what they might hope to find, at their journey’s end. The type of fish I saw that man take from the river is a blepherlight fish, which likes to find natural caverns and crevices in which to lay its spawn, at this time of year. Perhaps this is what the Society of Aquatic life are waiting for each year; perhaps these fish worm their way into the extensive pumping systems of the Archive, which could well have some outlet to the Moway, and somewhere inside there is a still place where they can lay their eggs. Perhaps an observation tank, where detritus from the system settles and is scooped out. A glass tank with glass pipes feeding it, filling a room, with little glowing fish flitting around providing lighting: that is what I would expect to find, perhaps with the various preserved oddities of the sea gathered from the Archives positioned around, their formaldehyde solutions glowing sympathetically with the pipes. Yet you know I could be wrong.’

You can still get a copy of the pamphlets, from specialist book dealers, although there was an attempt from BUSAL to suppress and destroy them. Yet some have said that the continued existence of the pamphlet suggests it could be a deliberate publicity stunt from the Society, or some way of surreptitiously gathering new members by setting them on the right tracks. Others believe that there is no Second Aquarium, nor truly any secret society that guards it, and that it is all an elaborate hoax made up by Tennovious Joy. Of course, neither of these theories do anything to suppress the great excursion of students and others who search the Unfathomed Archive today. Yet if any do manage to find the Second Aquarium, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to tell anyone about it, for then they too will be a member of the Benetek University Society of Aquatic Life.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Her Mysterious Cadence
  • Terma Lyst’s Day of Listing Lists
  • Sparrow Day

This festival has associated artwork, take a look!

December 20th – The Festival of Saint Geltrab

You can tell with just a glance at the name of the ‘saint’ being celebrated today that they’re made up: Saint Geltrab. Of course, all saint names are made up, but there’s something off about this one; sure enough it won’t take you long to find out that Saint Geltrab, or, to call them by their real name, Belini Querno, is not an official Chastise Church saint, nor the saint of any other religion either. Belini Querno was a woman much loved by her partner, their children, grandchildren, and the friends she gathered through her long life. She was also a woman who, during her lifetime, was in a long-running dispute with the Chastise Church, of which she claimed to be a disciple.

The central sticking point, the factor that soured Querno’s relationship with the Church was that she wasn’t one for bureaucracy; her favourite saying was, ‘why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?’ (or, as she often more succinctly put it, ‘do it, do it, do it!’). This isn’t say that there was no fault on the side of the Church, just that these faults are fairly well known and established, and that there was, from the off, going to be some friction between the bustling efficiency of Querno and the glacial pace of change within the Church. Querno seemed to have a need to be constantly busy, and was always ready to speak up with suggestions to improve upon well-worn systems and structures, and she never understood why they wouldn’t just get on with it and implement these changes, rather than passing things around committees and meetings.

Despite her bustling nature, Querno took relaxation very seriously. Her father had suffered from serious mental health issues, exacerbated by the stress of not being able to take adequate breaks from work, and she vowed to herself when he died early as a result of his illness that she wouldn’t suffer the same fate. The way that Querno chose to relax was by climbing up trees and closing her eyes. In the summer she’d listen to the rustle of the leaves, and in the winter she’d hear the wind and feel the boughs move slightly beneath her. She built a tree house to better stand the weather, in the big tree in her garden, and it was whilst lying on the floor there looking at the storm lamp strung from the ceiling swaying back and forth that she had her first experience of Attunement.

It wasn’t long after that she designated the tree house a church, writing a perfunctory note to the local Hierarch, ‘This is just a quick note to inform you that I have built a new church at the address given above, and will be welcoming any who wish to worship there, provided they are able to climb the rope ladder. Please do not trouble yourself with sending an official acceptance or thanks: I have no need for it and I’m sure you have many more important things to be getting on with.’ From this point, things got a little hostile between Querno and the Hierarch, and whilst she always claimed that her little treetop church was part of the official Chastise Church, it essentially functioned like a new offshoot, a schismed sect, with Querno holding special services every Wednesday.

When she died, Querno’s family and friends named her a saint, once again sending a letter to the Hierarch informing them of their decision. There are only about thirty people who form the little schism, and they still gather together, to hold service up the elm tree. The wooden construction there is now known as the Church of Saint Geltrab, and it is the location of today’s festival, positioned on the day of her death, where instead of a showy procession or even a sermon of any sort the friends and family of Belini Querno will lie down on the floor of the tree house and close their eyes. They’ll feel the tree sway in the last of the autumn winds. They’ll feel the light through the small stained glass window that Querno leaned to make in a week, shining on their faces. They’ll think about this industrious woman, whose boundless energy made their lives a joy.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Shake of the Hips Festival
  • The Classics of the Oboe Music Festival
  • Based on Nothing Day

December 21st – The Longest Night

The year is coming to an end. As of today, autumn has officially come to an end, and as such tonight will be the longest night of the year. Although nobody has ever seen it and returned, astrologers and physicists say that at the north pole today you would see no sun at all. Here in Buentoille, things are a little brighter, but there are still around nine hours less sunlight today than there was earlier in the year, on the longest day. Today has, like midsummer, retained a certain significance since early times, and as such there are various different ways of celebrating this shortest of days.

A common sight on doorways and above the windows of many Buentoilliçan households today are midwinter decorations made from holly and mistletoe. Any homes which bear these bright symbols will have a bowl of punch, wine, or other red-coloured booze kept inside the front door, ready for any who call, along with a loaf of brown bread. The callers, or ‘wassailers’ as they are also known, will each dip a slice of bread into the alcohol before consuming it, then dance a short jig, often with singing or musical accompaniment, known as a ‘wassail caper’.

The reasons behind this strange tradition have been long debated, but the most popular theory is that it is a hangover from Helican myths, in which the ‘world-ox’ was slain after it had grown so massive and fat from eating stars that it had begun to block out the sun. The wine, like the red berries of the holly, represents the blood that flowed forth and nourished the land which was previously barren, making it fertile for farming. Presumably in this analogy the bread represents the land, soaked as it is in wine, and the mistletoe is variously said to represent pus, flesh, or semen, as the testicles of a bull are often one of the things first eaten after they are slain.

This explanation doesn’t really explain the ‘caper’, but it does align with the fact that many meat-eating Buentoillitants will have roast beef for their main meal today. This consumption occurs to the extent that there are small yearly massacres of cows in the weeks leading up to today, a fact which causes much dismay to the eastern Buentoillitants who have adopted the tradition of wassailing today, despite the fact that they trace their ancestry back to the vegetarian Escotolatians, rather than the omnivorous Helicans. For the eastern Buentoillitants, today is the first day of the year that you are allowed to open the goods pickled that summer, although this is obviously a rule often broken. If this has any links to the ancient Escotolatians, it is not clear what they are.

Outside these general practices which have spread across the City as a whole, there are also smaller celebrations or traditions associated with this day. In the halls of the Kindlers, those worshippers from the Circle of Light, great mounds of wood will be burned all through the night, growing the Holy Fire to account for its lack in the sky, but also out of a paranoia that it too will be extinguished. The City’s witches are usually up to some mysterious deeds on days such as these, although whilst there are rumours of strange rituals in seaside caverns, witches seem curiously absent from Buentoille today and nobody has ever found out where they go or what they do there, possibly because everyone is too drunk from eating wine-soaked bread.

A more modern tradition which has come to prominence recently is the ‘Midwinter Rave’. Organised primarily by young Buentoillitants, a ‘rave’ is simply another word for a party or gig, although particularly one which goes on for an entire night, and involves electronic music. The Midwinter Rave is of particular significance as this is the longest night of the year, so dancing all the way through it is considered a great feat of endurance. The Rave will be held in one of the now-empty banana storage warehouses, by the docks, and thousands of people are expected to turn up. Any who can remain moving on the dance floor the entire night are awarded with light-up trophies shaped like a crescent moon, and things are tied in nicely with wider tradition by many of the revellers wearing garlands or crowns of mistletoe and ivy, as a substitute for holly, given the latter’s rather uncomfortable nature. The doors open at 3:30pm, ready for the dancers to begin at sunset, just after 4:00pm. Live footage of the sunset and sunrise is broadcast by the BBS today, and is displayed at the Rave on an enormous screen to great cheering and applause from the packed crowds.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Mawkish Children

December 22nd – The Annual Testing of the Formande Street Exchange

The history of Buentoille is, in some ways, a history of experimentation and invention. Whilst many inventions that City dwellers think of as essentially Buentoilliçan are actually imports from other Cities and provinces (at least in idea rather than manufacture), the proportion of household gizmos invented in Buentoille (such as the washing machine, the electric kettle and the television) is startlingly high. Yet as any scientist will tell you, experiments are not always successful, and there are inevitably a number of inventions that fall by the wayside. Today, on Formande street in Jutêgarde Parish, an annual occurrence takes place, one which is intimately involved with one such failed experiment.

If it had been in the house above, the Formade Street Exchange would no doubt have been removed by now, the space used for something more useful, but thankfully for the legacy of Terrade Orr, it was installed in the basement. The other factor that’s ensured its survival is the fact that it really doesn’t take up a lot of space; the actual ‘exchange’ is little more than a table with a few wires and sockets. It sits in the corner of the basement, where it has resided now for over a hundred and fifty years. Today a path will be cleared to it thorough the other keepsakes and detritus that has piled up around it, most of it similarly forgotten, and the white dust-sheet will be pulled back in a small, sneezy cloud. Other than a patina on the wood and copper components, as well as a little water damage around the legs where it was affected by a flood, it is pretty much pristine, on account of having been used less than two hundred times.

When Orr invented the telephonic exchange, it was originally in an attempt not to send a radio signal down a wire, as most people now understand her frankly arcane work. Instead, Orr was attempting to find out what was going wrong with her experiments attempting to send ‘electrical semaphore’ signals by turning on and off an electrical current along a long wire. When scaled down to a few metres, these signals sent across the wire perfectly, but when the wire was longer than about eleven metres they became progressively garbled, the timings between each signal growing and shortening in seemingly random intervals. The longer the line, the worse these effects seemed. Like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient with a stethoscope, Orr decided that she had to ‘listen’ to the line to understand the cause of this interference, which is when she designed and built the Exchange, which modulated a constant signal’s voltage from positive to negative at a high enough frequency that it could, when attached to a speaker, approximate the human voice.

With her previous electrical semaphore experiments, Orr had only used a single wire, strung between her house and another down the street, and was concerned that the issue may be to do with the physical location of the wire, so with her telephonic exchange she managed to convince several of her neighbours to have wires suspended across the streets and fed into their windows. Each of these wires was laboriously insulated with cotton and wax, and suspended along the existing washing lines. Originally there were sixteen wires, heading out spider-like in all directions from Orr’s basement and out her living room window, all feeding back to the Exchange itself, where each had its own two sockets, into which Orr could plug her receiving and transmitting devices. None of these lines still exist; they were scrapped long ago.

As you might expect by the fact that every Buentoilliant does not have a telephonic exchange of their own in their homes, Orr’s experiment did no go exactly as planned. As before, when tested on a small scale, Orr managed to transmit her voice to a receiver on the other side of the room, but when she tried to transmit or receive any sounds to the other people in her street, all that could be heard down the line was another sound, something like a voice but not quite: ‘It was a horrid sound, and at first I thought that they were playing tricks on me,’ wrote Orr in her research notes. ‘It was as if someone’s voice were made out of the sound of two sheets being pulled across each other, but there was this other sound below, almost too deep to hear, like a drain gurgling. It sent shivers down my spine and I couldn’t stand it for long before I had to switch it off. The others heard it too, and they all say they want it out of their homes. I’ve persuaded all but Marney (silly woman – she believes it to be the voice of a ghost but remember this is the woman who said she could hear the grass grow!) to keep them for a few days whilst I calibrate and check the lines for breaks or points of interference.

The experiment has been replicated many times at other locations around the City, but each has had the same results. Nobody is entirely sure what causes it, but currently there is some ongoing research as to whether it is connected to the phenomenon of radiodance, given that both of them seem to involve interference in the electromagnetic spectrum. The study is expected to publish its results in 2021, at which point it will have collected fifty years worth of data. The event at Formande Street today forms an element of this study, although it is a small, informal element, mostly run as a way for Orr’s descendants to keep her memory alive. A new wire is stretched across the street to a house down the road, with different types of insulation used each year, to see whether or not this effects the results in any way. So far the conclusion is that only length of wire seems to have any affect on the noise, that ghostly voice that still haunts the remnants of Orr’s legacy.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Broad Brush Strokes
  • The Tangential, Virile Festival
  • Trocchao Swannidge’s Day

December 23rd – The Festival of Eddel Duhrer’s Lady

Whenever anyone new came into Eddel Duhrer’s ‘study’ (that is, the laundry room of his small house on Good Hope Alley, where he had a fold-down desk and chair set up in the corner) they inevitably commented on the small statue that he kept on a shelf. It was painted wood, depicting a woman reaching into a sack, whilst looking wide eyed away from the bag, as if she had just been caught, or found something awful. Her eyes were the most arresting part, and he always kept her staring at the door, which was directly behind his desk (so that nobody snuck up on him), which is probably reason she garnered so many comments. Duhrer would always respond, ‘Oh that? That’s my lady.’

Duhrer had owned his ‘lady’ for about six years before this day in 1997, when he was sitting quietly in the study looking out at the yard and next-door’s cat, which was at that time starting intently at a tree where a robin was hiding. ‘I was writing, or at least that was what I had sat down to do, but around that time I was finding it very difficult to get going and so inevitably the things out the window started to get my attention instead. It was very quiet and there was washing all around that I’d only just put out, so it smelled nice, if a little damp, and then all of a sudden I heard this little bell and I looked up and my lady was moving!’

Quite where Duhrer got the statue from seems to be something of a mystery, not because he has now died and taken the secret to the grave, or because it was sold to him by a shady stranger, but because he obstinately refuses to tell. He has variously claimed to several news organisations that he bought it from a witch, or that he found it in a deep cave, or that he bought it from a wonderful second-hand shop that he’d never seen before and never saw again. None of these explanations are true, and many commentators have proposed that he made the statue himself, despite having allegedly no mechanical know-how and despite professing great surprise at the first time that his ‘lady’ sprang to life.

According to Duhrer (and a number of others that he has invited to watch the lady move), after the bell has sounded, the lady takes her hand out of the sack, holding up some new item each time. On that first year it was apparently a small beating heart, but since there has been a squirming octopus, a cat, little bird, and a flickering lamp. All of the items pulled from the sack are exquisite miniatures, and in some way animated, and when they have been revealed they are swiftly replaced again, the whole thing taking under a minute. The whole time the woman maintains the same shocked look, and when she is done moving the joints, which were so apparent a few moments ago, are suddenly invisible once again.

The guests invited to come and watch this fleeting moment today are especially picked from a pool of applicants by Duhrer, and have been coming ever since that first display; it’s likely that the lady moved before 1997 but nobody noticed. Alongside the very exclusive guest list, which mainly involves his friends and family, Duhrer’s refusal to allow anyone to test and scan the lady to see whether his claims are true tends to raise some eyebrows. Duhrer’s explanation is that he doesn’t want to ‘spoil the surprise’ of future items pulled from the sack. Presumably, at some point, these items will cycle, starting again with the heart, at which point he has said he’ll happily invite some scientists around to look at it. They seemingly have to begin again soon, or else where will these brief masterpieces be stored? Quite where the bell is sounding from is another mystery, as there appear to be no holes for the sound to escape from so clearly.

After the viewing of the lady, Duhrer’s guests will retire to the dining room/kitchen, where they will be served an elaborate meal. Apparently he is quite the conversationalist, although Margaret Spinewinch, who visited in 2003 advised others not to ‘get him started on his novel, or he might bring it through, all two thousand pages of it, and start reading.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Nice Festival of Calming Experiences
  • The Festival of Terrible Breath
  • Creatures of the Night – A Festival of Cinematic Horror

December 24th – The Festival of Understanding They Who Walk Among Us

The central text, the equivalent of a holy book, of the Gathering of Those Who Know is slim, less than a hundred pages long. It reads more like a novelette than a holy book, a fact that has made the Gathering a very popular pseudo-religious group, given the fact they’ve not been around long, because of how accessible it seems. The text, called How We Came to Know, tells the story of the group’s founders, Millicent Awcome and Vaerible Schlost, focusing in particular on something life-changing that they saw on this very day.

Awcome and Schlost were friends, and had been since school. How We Came to Know begins with the pair at school, a few moments snatched from their collective memories to illustrate who they were; they met in detention, they left messages for each other written in code, attached to the underside of a desk they both used on different days of the week, Schlost made a card game called The Dangerous Citizen and Awcome played the drums. It goes on like this for some time, fleshing out their personalities, so that when the central scene comes you feel as if you already know these characters, and you identify with them. Outside of making prospective members feel a certain kinship towards the Gathering’s founders (therefore making them more likely to join up), these first tales seem to serve no pedagogic purpose. These are not stories to be emulated, they are pacing in a carefully crafted retelling of (allegedly) true events.

When it eventually gets to that founding moment, How We Came to Know jumps several years into the future, when both Schlost and Awcome, now nineteen, were sat together on the edge of a rooftop, drinking. There was a low bar that ran along the top of the wall, which they wedged themselves underneath with their feet dangling over the edge. This was a standard activity in the summer, but it was an unusual thing to happen in the winter, when the wet and snow and ice made getting onto the roof fairly dangerous, but Schlost had been feeling depressed and Awcome was trying to cheer them up. ‘I bet you can’t spit into that puddle over there,’ said Awcome. ‘Bet I can,’ said Schlost, and they spat as hard as they could and their spit hit the puddle and as it did the puddle lit up, as if it were reflecting the summer sun.

At this point, the narrative of that slim book is broken into by the narrators, the two friends, who are very eager to let the reader know that they aren’t claiming that Schlost has some sort of magical spit; they don’t know what caused them to suddenly be able to see reflected in that puddle the alien spacecraft descending from the heavens. ‘It was startling to us both; we were looking around for the source of the reflection, yet not for long because at the same time we could barely take our eyes off of it, that bright white cylinder out of which stepped a person with ashen grey skin and bright red lips and very long arms. As they stepped out of the cylinder they transformed to look like a normal human, and then, when they did, the water rippled under their foot, or was it the foot of someone who was just walking by, someone who happened to look a lot like the person we just saw the alien transform into.

‘We think that if we had not been holding hands so tightly then, and if we had not talked to each other about it, then we would have forgotten it in the next few moments, because as that person stepped on the puddle the memory faded so rapidly, like waking from a murky dream. Yet there was this sensation, as if you had spent all your life until that moment looking through a narrow tube and now your vision was wide-screened, like that moment at the cinema just before the film starts and the borders pull back; this sensation remained. Whenever you have this sensation normally, you may have just seen an alien land, or transform, or whatever it was that we saw that day, you simply don’t remember it.’

The route up onto the roof is easier nowadays, given that the building, once a shop, is now the official residence of the Gathering, where similar visions are recorded and discussed and studied for similarities and important information. ‘We know they mean us no harm, at least directly’ say the Gathering, ‘but we don’t know why they’re here, or what they want; that is what we intend to find out.’ Indeed, this is what will be discussed today, when all the Gathering’s membership will come together for a number of talks that summarise the year’s findings. This year there will be a talk on the increased efficacy of remembering dual sightings as compared to individual sightings. Additionally, there will always be that secondary part of the festival, when the Gathering file up to the roof and each spit off the edge, trying to hit that same puddle, not in hopes of seeing another craft, but out of a sense of respect for the moment when They Who Walk Among Us were first remembered.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dorritch Walegethra’s Balloons
  • The Entombed Festival
  • Oarswomen for Intermunicipal Unity’s Festival of Departure

December 25th – The Festival of the Silken Escape

The League of Female Independence (LFI) has been around for a long time, and was one of the first groups to affiliate with the Women’s Union, who organised the great Strike of 1553. These women initially joined together as an organisation to support each other, and to ensure that women had a means of supporting themselves outside of the influence of men, who, at the time, were paid more and were therefore more likely to be the largest financial contributor in a relationship. This was a time when middle class women were expected to stay at home to look after children, and therefore many had no means whatsoever of supporting themselves. Working class women were often paid so poorly that they had to rely on male wages to survive. Thankfully, Buentoille is now a fairer and more enlightened place, but for hundreds of years organisations like the LFI were essential to ensuring the very survival of many Buentoillitants.

Mutual support was a central part of the LFI’s work, an ideal which in practice involved childcare sharing schemes, communal living and wage sharing, shelters for victims of domestic violence, and female-only defence brigades who would protect these shelters and would be dispatched to protect some vulnerable women. Most of these defence brigades would publicly identify themselves by wearing blood-red silk scarves around their necks, silk scarves made in LFI-owned factories where formerly jobless women who wanted to be independent from the men in their lives worked. These factories, as well as some of the communal houses, shelters and childcare schemes are still in existence today, though in somewhat modified form, and whilst the defence brigades are no longer necessary, members of the LFI still choose to identify themselves by the scarves, which are a large part of today’s festival.

There is an old Buentoilliçan folk story about a beautiful young woman trapped in a tower that you may have heard of. When she was very young, she declared to her father, her sole caregiver, that she never wanted to marry a man. He laughed this off, but when she stuck true to this sentiment as a teenager, he decided to imprison her in a tall tower until she agreed to marry a man of good wealth, so that she would carry on the family line. Soon rumours about the young woman’s beauty began to circulate, and not much longer they began turning up at her father’s door, petitioning him to convey their gifts to her. The father was naturally delighted with this but the young woman simply threw all the presents out of her windows. All except one, a silk scarf, which she kept. Three weeks later she had enough silk scarves to make a long rope, with which she escaped and never returned.

In the reimagining of this tale, which is acted out in part today, the anniversary of the first meeting of the League, the scarves are not presents from men, but symbolic tokens of solidarity from members of the LFI. In this canny piece of annual advertising, the League uses a story which almost everyone would instantly recognise and therefore broadens the impact of their rhetoric. As in real life, each woman’s input alone may not be enough to save the damsel trapped in the tower, but bonded strongly together they are an effective force to be reckoned with.

Yet the display today is not just a political statement, but a beautiful spectacle, too, a fact which has ensured its lasting appeal all these years. In its modern form, the LFI provides less financial support as since the Revolution this has been less necessary, but instead the support tends to centre around highlighting, supporting and encouraging the achievements of women, and the festival today is one such place to highlight the artistic skills of its members. Instead of one woman descending the red silken rope, a number of women acrobatically descend, unfurling many ropes as they go, twirling in the air with poise and grace. The tower they descend from, the Women’s Beacon, shines brightly each night, like an inland lighthouse, and was itself designed by a woman called Amerlia Gretchan, and built by innumerable LFI members.

An audiovisual display is also projected onto the tower, which is each year designed by a different female artist. Last year over one hundred acrobats tumbled down in a bright display, as angular birds flew out from behind them, all to the frenetic sounds of the electronic music producer Gale Dwenner. At the end the lights cut to black, the music stopped, and then, as the lights slowly came back on, the tower was revealed with no animated overlay, a tall symbol of female solidarity, swathed with knotted red silk scarves.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Brazen Fool
  • The Doctor’s Image Reproduced: a Festival of Fractal Wonderment

December 26th – Saint Miliflage’s Day; The Festival of the Pilgrim’s Star

Whilst the Chastise Church has always maintained its official belief in the existence of Saint Miliflage’s Island, for most of the past eight hundred or so years few others have joined them in this belief. Various attempts have been made to find the island, which is said to be somewhere beyond the Tibizian Straits, within a (relatively) nearby segment of the Outer Ocean. The way to find it is to follow the Pilgrim’s Star, which appears particularly bright in the north-west tonight, hovering just above the horizon all night. This, at least, is what it is claimed Miliflage did, in her holy book, Miliflage Exemplarium, a text which, it has recently been found, was originally written as more of an adventurer’s memoir, published under the title Eckscurshuns ofe a Venrable Laydee.

In her own time Danielli Merskov, the eponymous ‘Venerable Lady’, was something of a celebrity. She was unusual amongst Buentoillitants in that she was not content to settle down; she always had to be moving, exploring. Many scholars have traced this curious tendency to her father, who was actually a Chenorrian, a scout for that roving, nomadic empire of the Great Expanse to the east. He only stayed in the City for about a month, but in that time he had amorous relations with Merskov’s mother, who raised her in her beloved Buentoille; Merskov senior, unlike her daughter and the man she let into her bed, was not the roaming sort.

The tall tales and artefacts that Merskov brought back from the other cities of the Inner Ocean and farther reaches were what made her so famous in Buentoille. Whenever she passed through the City, she was invited to the court of whichever monarch was in power at the time (Merskov lived through four monarchies), where she would display her finds and tell stories, which, when filtered down through the various strata of Buentoilliçan society, became increasingly unbelievable. A figure like this was a valuable person to have associated with any cause, and so it was that Merskov was appropriated as a saint, and a suitable tale of Attunement was made up, in order to cement her position within the Chastise Church.

At the time, the Church wielded great power, and were quickly able to persuade the publishers of Merskov’s Eckscurshuns to instead publish the Exemplarium, suppressing the original text. So it was that the tale of Merskov finding her uninhabited island, where the land is ‘juyste beaneath the wartere, sow yt looketh to the idoll vyewer as yf ye walketh ypon the wartere’s surfayce,’ became a tale of Saint Miliflage finding an island where, through Attunement, the inhabitants had managed to walk on water. Her description of how to find the place, which was already a fairly vague explanation involving the triangulation of three stars, including the Pilgrim’s Star, was also simplified into simply following this star.

It was only in 1988 that a surviving copy of the original text was unearthed, hidden as it was within the bindings of another book, so that it purported to be a horseradish gardener’s guide. For hundreds of years, then, all attempts to find the Island were undertaken by people looking in fundamentally the wrong location, so it is no wonder that the island was taken to be a fanciful creation of the Church. The unearthing of this book was, then, a bittersweet moment for the Church, who were at once vindicated and vilified by its contents. At the time the Church actually denied the veracity of the text, but when documentary footage of the island was brought back to Buentoille by Moreige Formo and his band of explorers in 2000, they were forced to admit their historical untruths.

As such, there have been various changes to the way in which the festival today has been celebrated. At one time, the Chastise Church would have led a special sermon looking out from The Church of The Holy Host, atop Ranaclois hill, in the direction of the Pilgrim’s Star. Nowadays, as a way of making up for their past misdeeds, a subsection of the Church will go out distributing copies of the original text, rendered in more modern language. Other groups, such as the Guild of Cartographers, will today hold study sessions, trying to align the descriptions of Merskov’s other explorations with their understanding of the lands around Buentoille. With the suppression of Eckscurshuns, a lot of this information was lost, and whilst many of the locations described were ‘discovered’ by other, later explorers, there are still some which are as yet unverified. This year, in recognition of the recently uncovered great work that Merskov did, a statue will be unveiled on the dockside, looking out towards her half-submerged island, rather than that misleading star that was followed fruitlessly for so long.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Blighted Wind Day
  • The Festival of Lowering Your Cholesterol with One Weird Trick
  • Madame Boule’s Festival of Inappropriate Iced Cream